The Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has brought in new rules to ensure that how each councillor votes on the annual budget, including the level of Council Tax, is publicly recorded.
Mr Pickles says:
A survey by Conservative Way Forward in August 2013, based on Freedom of Information Act requests to 340 councils, found that 78% of councils could not or would not say how councillors had voted on setting that year’s council tax. Three-quarters of councils which chose not to freeze council tax had not recorded their votes.
The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 will lay the way for greater reporting of council meetings using digital and social media. To complement this, we believe that local accountability would be further enhanced by asking all councils to publish, as a matter of record, how each councillor votes on any budget decisions including council tax changes. Indeed, recorded votes are the norm for Parliamentarians.
Accordingly, we have written to every council leader making clear our expectation that this year all councils will adopt at their budget meeting the practice of recording in the minutes of the meeting how each member has voted on the budget and amendments to the budget.
At my council, Hammersmith and Fulham, at a typical full council meeting we have several votes. Usually they take place on a show of hands with simply the totals for and against being recorded in the minutes. However our constitution includes the following provision:
At a Council meeting, where the question has been put and is not agreed, Councillors shall be given the option of whether the matter is dealt with by show of hands, or alternatively, a roll-call vote. There shall be no roll-call vote unless five Councillors request names to be recorded. In these circumstances, only Councillors present in the Chamber at the end of a one minute division bell shall be entitled to vote. Councillors’ names shall be called by the Director of Law or another authorised officer and Councillors shall answer “For”, “Against” or “Not Voting”. Voting in either form shall be definitive and final.
It takes a bit of time ringing the bell and waiting for anyone to come in from the corridor outside and then reading through all the names. Often there is a muddle where the demand for a roll-call comes too late – once voting by hand is already under way.
So I would not be in favour of a named vote for everything but the annual setting the level of Council Tax is an exceptionally important one. It is right that each councillor remembers that their vote is a matter of individual responsibility and it follows that they should be held accountable for it by those whom they are landing with the bill.
This is a modest but welcome change in allowing residents to know what their councillors are doing.